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Parker Thomson Awards recognize outstanding legal journalism

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Parker Thomson Media Awards sealThe 2022 Parker Thomson Awards for Outstanding Legal Journalism in Florida have been announced and the winners will be highlighted in a video during the August 4-5 Florida Media Conference sponsored by the Florida Press Association and Foundation.

The awards are presented by The Florida Bar’s Media & Communications Law Committee in recognition of outstanding journalism highlighting the system of law and justice as it affects Floridians. Judges for The Parker Thomson Awards are composed of out-of-state journalists, media lawyers, and media educators.

Awards were presented in three categories, print, television, and radio. Award recipients received $500 for first place; second-place honorees received $250. All honorees and their media outlets received plaques.

The winners Include:

Print

First Prize: Jane Musgrave, The Palm Beach Post, “Judge wary of ordering Palm Beach Gardens hospital to give ivermectin to COVID patient”

When a man urges the hospital to administer Ivermectin to save his wife’s quickly-declining health from COVID, the court system gets caught in the middle as Circuit Judge James Nutt must make cautionary judgment on where to draw the line between constitutional rights and professional medical decisions. While hospitals in some states may be compelled by judges to administer Ivermectin, those judges who decline to intervene are faced with tremendous pressure from both sides — the families desperate to save loved ones and the doctors deeply concerned with the boundary between medicine and law.

Second Prize: Melissa Holsman, TC Palm, “Aspiring rapper, ‘Pierre the Truth’ uses voice to laud life’s turnaround in Mental Health Court”

Melissa Holsman received an audio clip of a song produced by a client in Martin County’s Mental Health Court, and at once, was inspired by the musical talent and lyrical story of Max Pierre, aka ‘Pierre the Truth.’ She located the aspiring rapper who agreed to let her write about his troubled life, his intellectual disability, his music and determination to turn his life around. From a desperate kid living on the streets in Palm Beach County, being in and out of jail, to a young man staying sober, actively involved in self-help programs, ‘Pierre the Truth’ uses his songwriting and voice “to express humility, a message of gratitude, and inspire others who, like him, were once hungry, homeless and hopeless, overtaken by mental health issues.”

Radio

First Prize: Caitie S. Muñoz and Daniel Rivero, WLRN, “How Florida Put The Silencer on Changing Gun Laws”

Four decades ago, Florida’s cities and counties had the ability to implement gun control measures as a tool for combating violence. Then, in the 1980s, the Florida state government took away the local governments’ ability to make their own rules about guns. The Legislature decided firearms could only be regulated at the state level. Since then, these state-only policies have been repeatedly strengthened. In an episode of the WLRN podcast Tallahassee Takeover, titled “How Florida Put The Silencer On Changing Gun Laws,” host Daniel Rivero and reporter Caitie Muñoz use a mix of archival tape and contemporary interviews to paint a vivid narrative of the politics surrounding the evolution of gun policy in Florida.

Second Prize: Veronica Zaragovia, WLRN, “Some Relatives Want Surfside Site to be a Memorial”

This entry is a compilation of WLRN’s coverage of the legal proceedings following the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside. The collapse happened
on June 24, 2022, killing 98 people. Coverage included historical context, a survivor who lost his retirement nest and all of his belongings in the collapse, how people with different interests — personal, financial, legal, etc. — fought over the future of the collapse site, how the Surfside tragedy motivated local governments to address other unsafe buildings in Miami-Dade County as well as the rescue efforts and the role of the federal investigation agency, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, in determining the cause of the collapse.

Television

First Prize: Gregory Fox and Gordon Portell, WESH, “A Tale of Two Rapists”

Over 30 years ago, reporter Gregory Fox sat in the courtroom and watched the first person in the U.S. be convicted with DNA evidence, Tommie Lee Andrews, a serial rapist sentenced to 100 years behind bars. At least three other victims were told their cases did not need to be prosecuted, because after all, he would never get out. But when news surfaced in 2021 that Andrews was seeking release from the Jimmy Ryce Civil Commitment Center for habitual, violent, sexual predators, Fox was contacted by the victims who urged him to reach out to law enforcement to try and stop a scheduled bench trial. Ultimately, after exclusive reports and gut-wrenching victim impact statements from the five Andrews victims, the Orlando Police Department and the sheriff’s office admitted that Andrews’ cold case evidence was “purged” meaning there was no evidence, no DNA, and no new charges. Contrary to Andrews’ case, OPD managed to recover archived evidence from another 20-year old rape case from the 80s and 90s known as George Girtman, or the “Malibu Rapist,” revealing dozens of more victims whose cases were brought to court and the state attorney charged Girtman. Fox’s determination to bring justice to the Andrews victims persuaded the OPD to initiate policy change, ensuring that the department retain all rape evidence for 50 years and to re-examine cold cases.

The Parker Thomson Awards honor news stories, series, features, editorials, blogs, documentaries, columns, special sections — anything that is produced by a news organization and deals with law and lawyers, courts, law enforcement, the delivery of legal services, the effectiveness of the justice system, the work of the organized Bar or related matters. The media competition is in its 66th year. This year’s awards honored works published or produced in 2020. Thomson was a Florida attorney who, from 1968 to 1983, represented numerous prominent clients in First Amendment cases. He argued three cases in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, including Miami Herald Publishing Company v. Tornillo in 1974. He won that case, helping to overturn a state law that required newspapers to allocate equal space to political candidates on the editorial pages. Thomson died in 2017 at the age of 85.

The judges this year were David Snyder, media lawyer and media law professor; Douglas Davis, journalist, editor, and publisher for multiple news outlets across the county (ret.); Mary Nguyen-Nodelman, assistant public defender for the Fifth Circuit and member of the Media Law & Communications Committee; Adrianna Rodriguez, vice president and assistant general counsel – News at TelevisaUnivision, Inc., and member of the Media Law & Communications Committee.

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